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Evaluating the offense: Tigers outfield carrying the club

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If it's a no-brainer that the Detroit Tigers offense relative to the league average has been, to be nice, sub par this year, it's equally a no-brainer that the outfield has been glorious.

Before we dive right in, I suggest checking out my first article on the infield as I give the caveats and explanations behind what I've done. Here's my primer on Weighted On Base Average (wOBA); that's the metric I will be using going forward.

Austin Jackson is slowing down in recent weeks (.262/.328/.311 slash line over the last 16 games/67 plate appearances) but he's the winner of the Best Hitter Not Named Miguel Cabrera In Detroit award thus far. With this in mind, it's no wonder that the Tigers have excelled in centerfield offensive compared to the American League average. But you'd be surprised to know that CF isn't even the Tigers best offensive position in the outfield.

No sir, that belongs to left field. Say whaaa? It's marginal thus far, but it is true.

Position Tigers wOBA LG wOBA Runs Runs/162
LF 0.381 0.327 9.7 31.2
CF 0.372 0.325 8.1 26.8
RF 0.377 0.354 4.1 13.2
DH 0.340 0.323 2.6 9.9

If I made predictions before looking at the numbers, I would've said that Austin Jackson's great 2 months had to have driven CF to the best offensive position of the outfield. But Johnny Damon being Johnny Damon and Brennan Boesch being some reincarnated Ty Cobb has boosted the Tigers left field numbers.

One other position I was very, very interested in was the DH spot. I assumed before looking at the numbers that the DH spot was the weakest position we would have relative to what you'd expect. You don't expect offense from catcher or shortstop, but you expect big offense from your DH spot. Two things caught me off guard: 1) Detroit's been above-average offensive for the position and 2) that the league average wOBA has been so low. Surely I would've suspected teams picking players solely for their bats, they'd be able to out-hit the outfielders and be more in line with first base. In updating my numbers, I currently have first basemen in the AL sporting a .336 wOBA -- nearly 15 points higher than the DH. For reference, that 15 point spread leads to nearly a full win difference over 700 plate appearances.

Now, on an individual team level, I implemented a cutoff of at least 50 plate appearances in Detroit to cut down the Danny Worth's of the world. No offense to him, but I wanted to look at players with substantial playing time (as much as they can have some seven weeks into the season) instead. Here's what I've got:

Player wOBA Pos. wOBA Runs
Ryan Raburn 0.289 0.322 -1.5
Carlos Guillen 0.356 0.323 1.9
Johnny Damon 0.368 0.327 6.1
Brennan Boesch 0.406 0.327 6.3
Austin Jackson 0.377 0.325 8.2
Magglio Ordonez 0.392 0.354 5.8

For the positions, I used the overall average for Ryan Raburn since his time in Detroit has been pretty even between infield and outfield (38 PA's in the OF, 21 as a 2B). Carlos Guillen is compared to the average DH while Johnny Damon and Brennan Boesch I compared against the average left fielder.

Raburn's really not been good in his short time in the bigs this year, but as one of the drivers of the Raburn Bandwagon (sorry, I don't have any photoshopped buses like the Boeschwagon), that will improve. If he's good at one thing in baseball beside inopportune dropped fly balls leading to runs, it's hitting. Even at that, over his 57 total plate appearances this year, he's still close to average for the average hitter (position neutral).

Guillen doesn't have many PA's this year, but he's still doing what he does: hit. Damon's been very good as well.

The bottom three are the surprises. Boesch doesn't have a ton of PA's, but he's reaching the point where his immense -- and unsustainable -- production is worth a lot to the Tigers. I personally am not planning on him being the left fielder of the future and putting his name/number on the wall out beyond the bullpens, but you cannot take away the production he's given in his short time this year.

Jackson's struggled recently, but still sporting a great wOBA and has been nearly a full win better than the average center fielder in offense alone. Add in good defense and even if/when his offense continues to dwindle, he'll be an above-average player.

Magglio Ordonez is the one I'm most intrigued by. Magglio, thus far, has shown that the obituaries on his power may have been prematurely written. He's sporting a .165 Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) and the league average for right fielders is .164. Positional average power with a great walk rate leads to a great wOBA. Now, I wouldn't bank on Magglio having a .390+ wOBA (or .890 OPS) the rest of this year. However, I think he'll settle in right around where he was in 2008: .370-ish wOBA and .870 OPS.

The Tigers, however, can't rely on the outfield offense to carry the load the entire year. Yes, they should be good for the majority of 2010 as Magglio and Damon are established hitters, but there will likely be more regression from Jackson and Boesch, and to a lesser extent, Magglio himself.

One of the most vital pieces moving forward in my mind is Raburn. His offense needs to improve and I'm near-certain that it will. If he can super sub or even take over the second-base position full-time (or close to it) and get back to near his 2009 offensive level, the Tigers will be better suited to absorb some negative regression from the outfield.

If he doesn't, well, let's just hope we can even get to a game 163 again this year.

And one last table before I go; the "true talent' table. These are the rest of season ZiPS projections on each player's page. I calculate the wOBA, convert to runs, and get an estimate of what we could expect from the player over the remaining projected plate appearances.

Player TT wOBA Pos. wOBA TT Runs
Austin Jackson 0.308 0.325 -6.4
Johnny Damon 0.354 0.327 9.4
Magglio Ordonez 0.371 0.354 5.7
Carlos Guillen 0.359 0.323 8.8
Ryan Raburn 0.350 0.322 5.9

ZiPS is not high on Austin Jackson, projecting him to be over half-a-win worse with the bat than the positional average. Even if that comes to fruition, that would put Jackson worth just over two full runs the average AL center fielder. It likes Johnny Damon's bat the rest of the way -- projecting him to be a league average right field stick, only in left field. Like I said above, I expect Ordonez to be around the .370 wOBA mark (I honestly made that prediction without looking at the Rest-of-Season projection), which is above-average to say the least. If this projection holds and he's 5-6 runs above average with the bat the rest of the way (projected 411 PA's), he'll be worth 10-12 runs with the bat over the positional average.

Boesch doesn't have an RoS projection because he didn't even have a preseason projection. Let's be generous and say he sticks in the majors. Let's say that he has a .350 wOBA going forward and picks up another 325 PA's. He's been worth 6 runs with the bat so far in his first 98 PA's and that's sporting a hefty .406 wOBA by my calculations. If he's .350 over the next 325 PA's (I'm be very liberal here; I think something in the .320-.330 range is much more likely), he'd pick up another 6 runs and come out worth 12 runs over just about 425 PA's. That'd be phenomenal. Like I noted, though, I think the .320-.330 range for him is much more likely, and if he falls into the .325 mark, over 325 PA's, that's actually going to knock off 0.5 runs from his total.

Here's to hoping Boesch keeps bashing!